We draft standards to regulate it, produce guidance on how to do it correctly, and even train people to carry it out safely, but falls resulting from working at height remain the single biggest cause of fatalities in the workplace.
Of the 142 people tragically killed in the workplace during 2020/21 in the UK alone, 35 (25%) died as a result of a fall from height. Comments chair of the trustees of the No Falls Foundation, Peter Bennett OBE: “These disturbing figures simply emphasise the importance and urgency of the work needed to advance height safety and reduce fatalities and injuries.”
Working at Height
Working at height in the UK workplace is regulated by the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) Work at Height Regulations 2005 as amended by the Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007. The Regulations apply to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. They are designed to prevent the deaths and injuries caused each year by falls at work. A place is ‘at height’ if (unless the Regulations are followed) a person could be injured from it, even if it is at or below ground level.
“there is an urgent need to advance height safety and reduce fatalities and injuries”
You must do all that is reasonably practical to prevent anyone falling, and the Regulations set out a simple hierarchy for managing and selecting equipment for work at height. Duty holders must:
• Avoid work at height where they can
• Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where they cannot avoid work at height
• Where they cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur
All work at height must be risk assessed, properly planned and organised; it must take account of weather conditions that could endanger safety; those involved must be properly trained and competent; the place where work at height is carried out must be safe; equipment used for work at height must be appropriately inspected; the risks posed by fragile surfaces must be properly controlled; and the risks from falling objects must also be properly controlled.
A risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what, in the workplace, could cause harm to people. Accidents can ruin lives and there is a legal requirement to assess the risks in the workplace and put in place a plan to control those risks. This is especially true of work at height where workers have a right to be protected from harm caused by a failure to take reasonable control measures. The HSE recommends the following five steps:
- Identify the hazards
- Decide who might be harmed and how
- Evaluate the risks and decide on the necessary precautions
- Record the findings and implement them
- Review the assessment and update if necessary
Selecting the Right Equipment
When selecting equipment for work at height you must:
- Use the most suitable equipment
- Give collective protection measures (e.g. edge protection) priority over personal protection measures (e.g. safety harnesses)
- Take full account of the working conditions and the risks to the safety of all those at the place where the work equipment is to be used
There are sometimes a number of alternatives to solving the same access problem and it is important to choose the most appropriate equipment for the job in hand. A thorough risk assessment will help you to do this.
Ongoing Regulatory Work
Industry, in every sector, is usually pretty resourceful when it comes to solving problems, and that holds true when it encounters issues around working at height. Unfortunately, what it does not always do, is properly consider how that problem can be resolved safely. As the figures show, that failure can result in death or serious injury, with shattering consequences for the individual concerned, his or her family, and colleagues.
“accidents result from failures in one or more of the following: planning, organisation, and management”
The HSE’s research – including accident investigations carried out by its own inspectors – shows that all accidents, including those involving working at height, result from failures in one or more of the following: planning, organisation, and management. The No Falls Foundation is devoted to the work at height sector and is dedicated to preventing falls from height and helping people affected by the life-changing consequences of a fall. “It’s essential to take time and plan the work from the very start,” says Hannah Williams, the charity’s manager.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Working at Height, brings together Parliamentarians, industry leaders and trade associations to campaign on the issue of height safety. It advocates support for a more comprehensive system of recording falls from height – as recommended by the official inquiry report of the APPG – to better inform policy and decision making going forward.
The report’s other recommendations include:
- The appointment of an independent body that allows confidential, enhanced and digital reporting of all near misses and accidents that do not qualify for RIDDOR reporting. The data collected by this independent body is to be shared with government and industry to inform future health and safety policy.
- The extension of the Working Well Together – Working Well at Height (WWT) safety campaigns to other industries outside of the construction sector.
- The creation of a digital technology strategy, to include a new tax relief for small, micro, and sole traders to enable them to invest in new technology.
- A major review of work at height culture – to include an investigation into the suitability of legally binding financial penalties in health and safety, funds that could be used towards raising awareness and training, particularly in hard to reach sectors such as the self-employed.
Commenting at the time of the report’s publication, Alison Thewliss MP, chair of the APPG said: “We welcome the practical measures that work at height industries are already implementing to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities. The use of new technologies and innovations, such as Augmented Reality and the effective use of drones, is now a reality.
“Our inquiry and report marks the beginning of the APPG’s work. Working with industry and government, we hope to make recommendations that will create a safer environment for the millions of people who work at height every day.”
Sadly, very typical is the case of Malcolm Bowers, originally a window cleaner, whose fall from a ladder resulted in eight days in hospital and six months in a wheelchair. Explains Malcolm, “50 years on, I live with the consequences of the fall to this day. I experience frequent pain in my ankles, knees and hips, and still find it difficult to walk on uneven ground.”
Professor Peter Brennan feels lucky to be alive after falling 18 feet from a ladder when cleaning the gutters of his house. He takes up the story: “It was the most unexpected and terrifying experience of my life. I didn’t think it could happen to me, especially as I am so careful and always check and double check everything. The ladder had large rubber feet, but somehow they lost grip, it slid backwards, and I slipped 18 feet down the wall.”
He continues, “I sustained multiple injuries and fractures, including a swollen, bruised and cut face, fractured tooth, three broken ribs and a split knee cap. I just feel lucky to be alive. I never thought I would end up in hospital after using such a simple thing as a ladder.
“I just feel lucky to be alive. I never thought I would end up in hospital after using such a simple thing as a ladder”
“If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone. There’s a lot more to using a ladder than everyone thinks.”
These next three key ambassadors of The Foundation all faced the aftermath and consequences of a fall from height and have gone on to use that life-changing experience to become champions and advocates of height safety.
Jason Anker MBE has led the way in promoting safety and best practice. Jason was paralysed from the waist down following an avoidable accident when he fell from a ladder in 1993.
Since then, he has gone on to talk openly and powerfully about the physical and physiological effects of his experience and was awarded an MBE for his passionate commitment to trying to make sure what happened to him doesn’t happen to others.
Paul Blanchard broke his back, fractured 18 ribs and suffered head injuries and a punctured lung following a fall from height. He was in an induced coma for three months and in hospital for six. Like all the Foundation’s ambassadors, he has since used that experience to positive effect and regularly shares his story to help keep people safe. For going ‘above and beyond’ with his safety message he was awarded RoSPA’s Archangel Award in 2015.
Dylan Skelhorn was working as a solid fuel heating engineer when the chimney he was working on collapsed and he fell 30 feet on to a brick wall sustaining severe multiple injuries. His story is a harsh reminder that these kinds of accidents continue to happen, which is why he regularly addresses audiences at organisations and companies both large and small to drive home the importance of height safety.
Comments Hannah Williams: “The shared experience and positive approach of our ambassadors – together with those people who share their personal stories with us – brings a personal dimension to the No Falls Foundation and what we aspire to achieve as part of an attitudinal shift. That’s why raising awareness of the risks associated with working at height is such an important part of the Foundations’ work.”
The No Falls Charter
The No Falls Charter will be a standardised action plan for businesses who can commit to striving for zero falls from height, bringing together good height safety practices from existing standards, policies, regulations and industry bodies into one resource that can be adapted and implemented by any organisation and their respective supply chains.
It is proposed that the No Falls Charter will cover:
- A requirement for all contractors to adhere to the good height safety practices incorporated in the Charter
- The issues to consider at every stage of a project, from design to maintenance
- The need for a proper risk assessment
- The critical importance of informed equipment selection
- The requirement for professional training
- The reporting of height-related incidents and near-misses
- A thorough review of all the information following a fall or near miss and the timely need for action to be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future
According to the Foundation, the Charter will enable companies to make a tangible commitment to height safety and make that commitment both transparent and demonstrable to staff, customers, suppliers and industry at large.
“With a degree of pragmatism,” says Hannah Williams, “Working at height can be carried out safely by applying common sense. It simply needs to be properly risk assessed, planned, supervised and undertaken by competent people using the right equipment. “The Foundation is working hard to deliver this message and to encourage everyone to understand and appreciate – and never underestimate – the risks involved. We need to keep people safe, and we’ll do that by stopping falls.”
No Falls Foundation
First registered as a charity in March 2018, the No Falls Foundation is devoted to the work at height sector and is dedicated to preventing falls from height and helping people affected by the life-changing consequences of a fall. It aims to foster greater awareness and understanding of the risks associated with working at height, to research the causes of falls from height and to support those facing the aftermath of a fall.
The Foundation has launched a new Supporter Scheme for those companies and organisations – in any industry sector – simply wishing to show their support and backing for the aims and objectives of the charity. By choosing one of the scheme’s three options – Bronze, Silver or Gold – supporters of the scheme can:
- Demonstrate their commitment to height safety
- Enhance their brand’s reputation for corporate social responsibility
- Benefit from the use of the Foundation’s logo
- Share in the charity’s marketing activities
- Connect with the Foundation’s initiatives and campaigns
- Help shape the future of working at height
A fourth ‘Platinum’ option caters for those companies and organisations seeking greater engagement with the Foundation – for example, by sponsoring a specific project, nominating the Foundation as their ‘Charity of the Year’ or by simply making a bigger donation. This option can be tailored to meet the individual requirements of the organisation concerned.
The charity is currently inviting people who have experienced a fall from height and suffered its consequences to share their personal stories. The aim is to develop a series of case histories that highlight the circumstances and aftermath of a fall from height. No one expects it to happen to them but these stories prove it can.
The aims and objectives of the Foundation are actively supported and championed by the Access Industry Forum (AIF). Established in 2004, the Forum liaised closely with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) during the development of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, and has since regularly contributed to revisions and updates of the associated guidance.
The AIF now provides a forum for all the principal trade associations and federations involved in work at height. Its member organisations each represent a different sector of the access industry and are recognised leaders and authorities in their respective fields.
Members of the Forum are ATLAS, EPF, FASET, IPAF, IRATA, Ladder Association, NASC, PASMA, SAEMA and WAHSA. Like the Foundation, the Forum’s website www.accessindustryforum.org.uk also includes guidance and resources including Toolbox Talks and Safety Steps – a series of documents that can be used freely, in whole or in part, to help produce any type of height safety output for designers, managers, supervisors or operatives.
The Foundation publishes a bi-monthly e-newsletter, Saving Lives, which contains details of all the latest news and developments at the charity. Sign up at www.nofallsfoundation.org